The age of the viewer may affect responses here - but, on the other hand, it may not.


Colin Morgan


So many films wind up with over-extended closing scenes that it's s a pleasure to find that Simon Amstell's Benjamin avoiding all extraneous flab knows exactly when to stop. But, if one puts aside a brief unexpected scene in which a well-known person appears as himself (I deliberately give no name to retain the surprise), the ironical fact is that until that well-judged final moment everything about Benjamin feels inept. The failure is not that of the cast but of the screenplay written by Amstell himself.


Benjamin Oliver (Colin Morgan) is a filmmaker who, seven years on, is making a second feature hoping to equal the success of his debut. When the new film is shown at the London Film Festival it is a flop, so it is fair enough that what we see of it is indeed bad.  But once we move on into Benjamin's world much of the dialogue remains just as unpersuasive and pretentious as that in Benjamin's film. In any case, even if the screenplay had carried more conviction it seems unlikely that Benjamin would have succeeded.


The sphere of tragi-comedy is a difficult thing to master, but it can work when the humour is not allowed to hide the pain and the people in the story are made to seem real enough to arouse our tears as well as our laughter.  Here, however, Amstell is attempting the impossible because the comic side of Benjamin is satirical: a dig at pseudo-art, be it in the film world or in contemporary dance, and a critique of the life-style not just of those around Benjamin but of Benjamin himself. He is portrayed as a gay man who, putting his career first and wanting to maintain an image in artistic circles, is inept at relationships. By its nature, satire is observational, distanced and often barbed. But Amstell wants to point a moral in criticising Benjamin's priorities. He does indeed show how essential it is for Benjamin to lower his defences and to accept the need to commit to his feelings for a young French singer and pianist, Noah (the sensual Phénix Brossard). But for this to be dramatically effective the viewer would need to find Benjamin more real and more sympathetic and merely to present the uneasy affair between Benjamin and Noah in a distinctly romantic vein (note the music used) doesn't solve the problem - instead it simply adds yet another element that doesn't really blend in.


I came to Benjamin without knowledge of Amstell's television work and wondered if familiarity with it would help fans to adapt more readily to what is on offer here. It also struck me that the film is probably aimed first and foremost at those of an age that would help them to identify with the central characters. But then I thought of Andrew Haigh's magnificent Weekend (2011) a reminder that a story about two young gay men can resonate fully with audiences of any age if done with real skill and insight. With Benjamin I felt entirely remote.




Cast: Colin Morgan, Phénix Brossard, Joel Fry, Jack Rowan, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Ellie Kendrick, Jessica Raine, Anna Chancellor.


Dir Simon Amstell, Pro Dominic Dromgoole, Alexandra Breede and Louise Simpson, Screenplay Simon Amstell, Ph David Pimm, Pro Des Hannah Purdy-Foggin, Ed Robin Peters, Music James Righton, Costumes Oliver Cronk.


Open Palm Films-Verve Pictures.
85 mins. UK. 2018. Rel: 15 March 2019. Cert. 15.